Gene Collier: The 30th Annual Trite Trophy

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Radio City Music Hall was booked, so welcome still again to the semi-opulent Grand Ballroom (Salon B) of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for today's very special episode in the long, frustrating, indecorous history of the Trite Trophy.

Can you taste the excitement?

Me neither.

It's our 30th such presentation, and I think it Speaks Volumes that we've been doing this for more than a generation without ever targeting the unrelenting overuse of Speaks Volumes.

Maybe, Just Maybe, it's time for a national moratorium on Speaks Volumes, as well as on Maybe, Just Maybe.

And maybe this 30th effort at discouraging indiscriminate cliché-slinging by writers, broadcasters, coaches, and athletes through All Of Baseball (as well as most or all of everything else) will finally enjoy some quantum of impact as we try to Impose Our Will toward a more elegant language.

Like That'll Happen.

Previous winners
Year  The year's worst

2012 Take a shot down the field

2011 Are you kidding me?

2010 At the end of the day

2009 Dial up a blitz

2008 Manage the game

2007 They're very physical

2006 It is what it is

2005 It is what it is

2004 Shutdown corner

2003 Cover 2

2002 Running downhill

2001 Put points on the scoreboard

2000 Walk-off homer

1999 Somebody's gotta step up

1998 Eight men in the box

1997 Show me the money

1996 Been there, done that

1995 West Coast offense

1994 Red zone

1993 It hasn't sunk in yet

1992 Mentality of a linebacker

1991 You don't have to be a rocket scientist

1990 Smashmouth football

1989 He coughs it up

1988 They went to the well once too often

1987 Gutcheck

1986 Crunch time

1985 Throwback

1984 Play 'em one game at a time

Nonetheless, here within minutes cometh the anointment of the winner of the 2013 Trite, dishonoring the worst cliché of the year in sports. That's unless we Lose Contain, get Behind The Chains, Shoot Ourselves In The Foot, or Come Unglued due to Atrocious Clock Management.

If any of that happens, we might be unable to avoid what happened in 2013 to a lot of NHL coaches, who would, as hockey analyst Barry Melrose explained "be crying in their soup jars."

Don't ask.

"What's in the jar, Coach, soup?"

I said don't ask.

We're Up Against A Break, but before we recognize some clichés that really Put Up Some Numbers in 2013 (anyone ever take down any numbers?), two quick observations about annoyances already noted.

Has it occurred to you, for one, that whatever it is that Speaks Volumes is usually something that doesn't even speak?

"Well, Joe, I think it Speaks Volumes that this Packers defense has allowed 400 yards or more in five of the past seven games."

Stats don't speak, and I doubt it would take more than one volume to convey their significance if they did. Too many people have Bought In on the idea that Speaks Volumes means something.

Not So Much.

As for Maybe, Just Maybe, this is a slice of nonsense so beloved it actually turned up on the cover of Sports Illustrated next to Tiger Woods during Masters Week, suggesting that the world's most over-covered athlete might actually win at Augusta.

That in itself might speak volumes, but it's probably better represented by another ubiquitous cliché, It's A Joke!

But then, as Steelers wideout Antonio Brown said on his radio show this fall, "when you lose, everything is magnitude."

He meant magnified, but at least the Steelers MVP avoided the cliché without undue embarrassment, which is Easier Said Than Done. Similar attempts Failed Miserably, such as in these incisive observations that are 100 percent cliché-free, yet One Hundred And Ten Percent ridiculous:

Prior to the NFL draft, analyst Merril Hoge said that Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o "lacks vertical and lateral dynamism."

Umm, yes. Also a live girlfriend.

Prior to the Steelers game in London at the end of September, analyst Tunch Ilkin noted, "When you are an 0-3 football team, in the back of your mind, you know, you haven't won."

Umm, yes, also in the front of your mind, the sides of your mind, and, I suspect, the windmills of your mind.

Right after an astounding Sidney Crosby goal in Game 5 of the playoff series against the New York Islanders in May, analyst Bob Errey blurted that Crosby has "eyes behind his head."

Yes, not Eyes In The Back Of His Head, but completely unattached. Back there somewhere.

Worst was CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf barking that New England Patriots' kicker "Steve Gostkowski is showing lots of leg."

Oh gross!

This would perhaps be the appropriate time to award our annual Mixologist Medal to the person who began one cliché but completed another in the grand tradition of Master Mixologist Hines Ward, who once blended You Have To Tip Your Hat To Them and You Have To Hand It To Them with the classic, "You have to take your hat off and hand it to them."

As ever, worthy candidates emerged in 2013, including the outstanding college basketball coach Tom Izzo, who reportedly said of one of his Michigan State Spartans, "he competes like nobody's tomorrow."

It was the highly dependable Steelers guard Ramon Foster who said, "It's nice to know the coach has your shoulder." Probably has his back, too, or at least a shoulder to lean on, but not to cry on, because there's no way Dez Bryant is getting into the this column.

But the winner of the 2013 Mixologist Medal is the ever-affable Errey, who, at one point last spring, described goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury as being "sharp as a cat."

Umm, yes. Also quick as a tack.

Errey actually Won By A Nose over St. Louis Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter, who also dealt in feline fantasy during the National League playoffs while discussing the way pitchers have changed their approach to him: "It's become a kind of cat-and-mouse chess match, if you will."

I won't.

As We Said At The Top Of The Show, this year in sports saw many constructions that were formerly mere annoyances metastasized into full blown clichés, such as Going Oppo, a baseball carcinogen meaning hitting to the opposite field. This has to be Nipped In The Bud before somebody describes a Dead Pull Hitter as a guy who is Going Oppo Oppo.

This irreversible trend away from running the football has resulted in easy throws to the flanks of the formation that are not much different than a running play, giving us this beauty: the simple PITCH AND CATCH OUT IN SPACE. The problem is it's not so simple, what with space's zero gravity and all. A pitch and catch out in space between George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in "Gravity," for example, would only have further complicated matters.

Many loyal Trite correspondents have noted the ascent of Read Option into full-blown clichedom this season, Read Option, employed to describe allegedly innovative offenses in which the quarterback has options after the snap, depending on what he "reads," is not much different than the way offenses have operated for maybe 80 years, but WHATEVS. Interesting term, though, coming from persons who might long have considered reading itself an option.

Also rising to full cliché status in 2013 was Stick His Foot In The Ground, a fairly new slice of nonsense that describes cutting in a different direction or just making a move, but now, "See right here, he's going to Stick His Foot In The Ground!" Well good, because had he not done that, someone might have stuck his head in the ground.

Cliches routinely morph in a similar way. Look at the way pass rushers who once looked forward to that point in the game when they could Pin Their Ears Back now say they also want to Set Our Hair On Fire.

I used to think the mass substitutions you see on third-and-long were people carrying pins so teammates could pin their ears back, but now I guess they're carrying lighters and maybe some accelerant for the torching of hair. Can't they just rush the passer?

For reasons too trivial to ponder, Spike The Ball morphed into Clock The Ball. I suggest Spike the Clock or even Clock the Spike.

More common than the morphing, however, is the refusal of certain clichés to stand down, even as they become outdated. It's a language-wide problem not limited to sports, of course, which is why people continue to say Ker-Ching, or Ca-Ching to connote a cash register ringing even though the last cash register to make that sound retired in about 1981.

It's almost time to recognize some distinguished clichés here in our live audience, then proceed to the moment a few of you actually have been waiting for, the naming of the worst cliché of 2013. But first just a few more bitter complaints regarding things like He Can Catch The Ball Out Of The Backfield, the overused phrase used to describe running backs who can catch. This was redundant on its best day (that's where the running backs come from, out of in the backfield), but now, since running backs often line up wide or in the slot in the Empty Set, a simple He Can Catch will do.

Lost His Footing continues, somehow, to substitute for the truth: He fell down. He Brings A Lot To The Table is still around, even though, at 350 pounds, it looks as though He Takes A Lot From The Table. People continue to Put It On The Ground or Cough It Up rather than just fumble. And The Rain Continues To Fall continues to turn up in broadcasts, so look, isn't that within the technical definition of rain? If it isn't falling, it's clouds.

Are You Kidding Me?

And now please a warm reception to all the clichés in our live audience, some former Trite Trophy winners including Red Zone, the greatest living cliché, once a minor sliver of coach speak and now its own channel, It Is What It Is, the only two-time winner of the Trite, and over there, Bounce It Outside (do running backs ever bounce it inside?), That Was Just Textbook, Jumps Up Into The Play, Beast Mode (in the spirit of the holidays, I prefer Feast Mode), Take Care Of Business (formerly "win"). Don't Go To Sleep On (fill in the team or thing you shouldn't go to sleep on, but not like "the chair" or "the porch"), Peaking At The Right Time, Ball Security, Tremendous Ball Skills (don't ask), Blew Up The Play, Right On The Money, Wicked Wrister, Rugged Winger, Situational Hitting, Meangingful At Bat, Quality At Bat, Productive At Bat, Casey At The Bat, Take A Shot Down The Field, Sat Down In The Zone (not literally, usually), Running Downhill, Would Be Tacklers (aren't they all?), the Ensuing Kickoff (weren't they all, after the first one?), Splash Plays, High-Point The Football (oh no he didn't), Left Money On The Table, Dial Up A Blitz, Send The House, Take It To The House, House Of The Rising Sun, and We Simply Don't Have Time to mention them all, so please don't send me an email with the subject line You Forgot One. If I could forget any, do you think I'd be writing 2,000 words on the topic annually for the past 30 years?

Are You Kidding Me?

That's a former Trite winner, by the way.

Now please Silence Your Cell Phones and Pagers (pagers, really?) because it's time to introduce our finalists and the winner of the 2013 Trite Trophy, Right After This perfunctory glance at the main criteria:

1) Exhaustive Overuse

2) Essential Meaninglessness

3) I really, really hate it.

Our third-runner up: Set The Edge.

People keep fiddling with The Edge, an inexplicably fashionable term for the end(s) of the defensive line, sometimes occupied by the defensive end (how they'd come up with that term?) or, in a 3-4 defense, the outside linebacker. The first iteration was Blitzing Off The Edge, but that has morphed into the non-blitzing imperative to Set The Edge. It's essential nonsense that I still suspect is somehow related to U2 lead guitarist David Evans, aka The Edge. You'll note that on stage, U2 likes to Set The Edge in one place while letting Bono run about with impunity. They don't Set The Bono. That'd be stupid.

Our second runner-up:

Launch Point: Once restricted to several locales within the Kennedy Space Station, the Launch Point is now the spot from where the quarterback throws the football. Defenses will attack the launch point by Collapsing The Pocket, try to force the quarterback to change the launch point, but sometimes offenses will voluntarily change the launch point, formerly called Buying Time With His Feet. It's awful.

Our first runner-up:

Pad Level.

"Football," Mike Tomlin once said, "is a game of (and I thought he was going to say "inches") pad level." Really? Oh, you betcha. The guy whose shoulder pads are closer to the ground in collisions almost always gains the necessary leverage for success, thus Pad Level has become even more important than a willingness to Stick His Nose In There or even Get A Hat On A Hat. When San Francisco running back Frank Gore scored against Atlanta Monday night, ESPN's Jon Gruden blurted, "Gore wins with pad level!"

I think there's more to it than that, but you're not going to stop the pad level people.

And now -- remember No Flash Photography -- our 2013 winner, in the tradition of winning clichés whose abuse transcended sports to the language at large like At The End Of The Day, It Is What It Is, and Are You Kidding Me(?), ladies and gentleman:

Going Forward.

That's right I said it.

Sometimes appearing as Moving Forward, Going Forward has become a cliché that very possibly outdoes even It Is What It Is on the criterion of having no visible purpose.

What should the Pirates do about their first base situation Going Forward? What will the Steelers do with LaMarr Woodley Going Forward? What kind of implications does Brooks Orpik's injury have on the Penguins defense Going Forward?

All of this is thought to have arrived in sports from the business world, where what the corporation does Going Forward must be seen as some kind of rhetorical crutch that keeps it from Going Backward.

Going Forward, if you must, remember that no matter what kind of sentence you use that includes the phrase "going forward" would have meant the exact same thing without "going forward."

"What can we expect going forward?" is the exact same thing as "What can we expect?"

So ...

Bad: Going forward, the Steelers need a solution to their salary-cap issues.

Equally Bad: The Steelers, going forward, need a solution to their salary-cap issues.

Equally Equally Bad: The Steelers need a solution to their salary-cap issues going forward.

Good: The Steelers need a solution to their salary-cap issues.

Thank you all and good night. Be careful exiting Salon B. You may access the exits by merely turning to face the rear doors and going forward.


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